Patrick Staff @ Dundee Contemporary Arts

From this unlikely starting point of 19th century play The Prince of Homberg, Patrick Staff's intelligent and original body of work engages a conversation on contemporary queer and trans identities

Review by Kate McLeod | 07 Aug 2019
  • Patrick Staff The Prince of Homburg 2019. Installation view at DCA. 

The Prince of Homberg by Patrick Staff, co-commissioned by DCA and IMMA Dublin, comprises an ambitious new video work presented in a red walled space within a black plastic anti-climb perimeter. The viewer is invited to pull up a chair at a cabaret-style table. In a homage to Pina Bausch some chairs are overturned implying some previous unseen action.

The 23-minute video pulls on so many rich threads it leaves you wanting footnotes: disorientating, dreamlike and visceral. The making and background research is complex and assertive, drawing on multiple themes. The materiality of the film is striking with the hand of the artist ever-present, from segments of wobbly hand-held footage to gestural painted frames. The championing of analogue processes is evident in the adjoining gallery with a series of colour photograms using motifs synonymous with the film.

The 19th century play The Prince of Homberg by Heinrich von Kleist is the armature on which Staff’s film is hung in three acts. Staff plays with time, moving back and forth between the first act when the Prince is condemned to possible execution in the third. This crisis haunts the film. Within this in-between space, key characters (Sarah Schulman, Che Gossett, Macy Rodman and Debra Soshoux) engage in conversation about their feelings around contemporary queer and trans identity.

In one scene Macy Rodman sits in her bedroom speaking about being nicknamed ‘Lazy Girl’ during her transition, hormone treatment leaving her unable to go out. Layered frames and footage project her bedroom into a club scene, where perhaps, she ought to be at ‘night fall’. A spectre among the dancing crowd, briefly two worlds are compressed. Towards the end of the play the narrated Prince wonders what it might be like to remain in the moment just before judgement, blindfolded, occupying a half-life.

Patrick Staff, The Prince of Homberg, until 1 Sep 2019, Dundee Contemporary Arts, free